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Reframe your networking mindset

Jul 19, 2019

By Dawn Leane

If the thought of networking brings on a cold sweat, you’re not alone. For many women, networking is a challenge. It’s not the activity of networking itself – research shows that women are at an advantage in this area. However, it’s the concept of networking that women often find uncomfortable.

Networking is one of the most dreaded developmental challenges that female leaders must address, especially as most senior leadership roles are still filled by men and it’s hard for women to find others in the same position at an event. Regardless, networking is one of those things that we know we ought to do, but never quite get around to. We tend to see it as – at best – a poor use of time, or – at worst – self-serving and inauthentic.

Yet, creating and maintaining a network of influential people is essential for success in business. Networks are key to hearing about role opportunities, advances and developments, and introductions and business opportunities in your sector. Connecting and communicating with a wide range of stakeholders is not a distraction from the ‘real work’ but actually at the heart of a leaders’ responsibilities.

Simple mistakes

Qualifications, experience and reputation will only take you so far. When you need someone to go the extra mile – to make an introduction, recommend your business or take a leap of faith – they must know you. In business, people do not extend trust easily.

Even those who describe themselves as networkers make some basic errors. Things like:

  • failing to be strategic;
  • building networks of people like themselves;
  • building narrow and deep networks; and
  • failing to follow-up.

Reframe your mindset

The good news is that everyone can learn to network well. Networking is not just for extroverted people; some of the most successful networkers I know – the super-connectors – are introverts at heart. The key is to be strategic and intentional.

If I could offer just one piece of advice to those who hate networking, it would be to reframe the exercise and adopt a new mind-set. Stop using the word ‘networking’ and, instead, think of it as building your guiding coalition.

Reciprocity is key

Don’t think about conferences and events as the places to start networking: the best connections are with people with whom you share an interest. View every meeting and every conversation as a potential contact. Most importantly, don’t think about what you need from your network: think about what you can offer.

When we take every opportunity to give to our network (whether we need help or not) it stops feeling like networking. As the golden rule of networking is reciprocity, those you helped will look for opportunities to help you in return.

Build first

Finally, it is crucial to build your network before you need it. If you’re about to apply for your ideal job, become self-employed or grow an existing business, that’s not the time to start building your network. That’s the time to leverage it.

Dawn Leane is Founder of LeaneLeaders. She will be teaching a course: Networking for women who hate networking.